Sally Campbell didn't plan on taking a job this summer.
"I just wanted to take it easy," the 16-year-old Free State High School student said. "But I'm in need of money - I'm a teenager. So I figured this would be fun."
For Campbell, "this" means baby-sitting a 9-year-old and 5-year-old from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every weekday. As summer jobs go, Campbell said, it's not a bad gig.
"I get to do all the things I wanted to do this summer, like go to the pool, go to the movies. I get to do everything - I just take them, too," she said.
Across the nation, the summer job market this year is one of the toughest in recent memory. A Northeastern University Center for Labor Market Studies report states that just 36 percent of teenagers will be able to find jobs this year - down from a recent high of 45 percent during summer 2000, and tying last year's record low.
"The 2005 summer jobs outlook for the nation's teens appears to be quite bleak at this point in time," wrote the report's authors.
Cheryl White of the Lawrence Workforce Center said it's tough here, too.
"We're seeing a lot of young people who are still walking in here looking for summer opportunities - high school, college and even adults," White said, "which gives me an indication it's pretty tight in the community."
But there's at least one employer in town who needs a lot of fresh bodies quick: the pool.
"We desperately need lifeguards," said Jimmy Gibbs, the city's aquatics supervisor. "This is the first year I've been here, since the summer of 2000, that we're not finding enough staff."
Fred DeVictor, the city's director of parks and recreation, said city pools need to employ about 200 lifeguards during the summer. This year, he said, there's about 150 on staff.
"We would love to have more people apply," he said.
In fact, he said, Lawrence City Hall is a big employer of young folks during summers. It employs up to 500 people as umpires for T-ball games, weed-pullers in city-owned cemeteries and, yes, as lifeguards.
"We couldn't provide the programs without them," DeVictor said.
"It's important to us, but it's important to them - this may be the first job they have, and they're gaining experience," DeVictor said. "For a student going into education, this might be a good opportunity for them to find out if they really want to work with kids."
That's why the nationwide shortage of jobs for teens is troubling, according to the Boston-based Northeastern University report.
"Far fewer youth across the nation are gaining exposure to the job market and to the real world of work than in the late 1980s and 1990s," the report said. "Such work experience can be an important form of human capital investment."
Julia Szabo, 18, a new Lawrence High graduate, said she's learned a few lessons during her time as a lifeguard at the city's pools.
"You deal with a lot of different people," she said. "Sometimes they're not in the best mood and you have to deal with people that are in all different situations. You kind of get good with your people skills."
Another benefit, of course, is money. Campbell plans a trip to Chicago in February, and is looking ahead to college - but also treated herself to a recent shopping spree. Szabo is saving up to go to Europe in the fall.
And they know they're lucky to have their jobs.
"A lot of my friends have jobs," Szabo said. "But the ones who are still looking have had a hard time finding them."
Cheryl White of the Lawrence Workforce Center has tips for teens seeking a summer job.
¢ It's late now, but start the job search early next year.
"A lot of people start thinking about what they'll do for the summer when summer arrives," she said, "and a lot of companies start their recruitment in March or April."
¢ Be persistent. If a company turns you away because they have nothing available, return the next week - they might have a job then.
¢ Be flexible.
"Ten hours a week is better than nothing at all," White said, "and it gets your foot in the door."
¢ And, if all else fails, be creative.
"I think young people, I would always encourage them, if they can do odd jobs for neighbors," she said, "they can do some part-time work that way."